MSO creates vivid images with Mozart symphonies, Stravinsky's 'Apollon'
By Elaine Schmidt, The Journal Sentinel
April 9, 2016
Playing under the baton of guest conductor Courtney Lewis, the orchestra opened the concert with a brisk, spirited rendition of Mozart's Symphony No. 28.
Lewis, who conducted both Mozart symphonies on the evening's program without a score, used simple tools to create a beautifully layered performance, including a host of dynamic contrasts, a variety of artfully weighted accents, and precisely placed, cleanly executed ornaments. The orchestra responded with tightly knit ensemble work and colorful playing.
Throughout the symphony's four movements, Lewis used tempos as an expressive tool, creating a distinct character for each movement, including a fast-not-frantic pace for a thoroughly engaging take on the final one.
Lewis and the orchestra ended the program's first half with a vivid performance of the 1947 version of Stravinsky's fanciful ballet "Apollon musagète" ("Apollo, leader of the muses"), written for strings.
The ballet finds three of the nine muses — Calliope (poetry and rhythm), Polyhymnia (pantomime), and Terpsichore (dance) — interacting with Apollo.
Lewis and the MSO created individual images with each of the piece's movements, fusing them neatly together into a greater picture. Concertmaster Frank Almond and principal cellist Susan Babini added lovely solo work.
The program's second half was filled by a robust delivery of Mozart's Symphony No. 41 ("Jupiter"). Mozart's last and longest symphony, it is rooted in the taut writing and musical brilliance we know as his unique compositional voice, but leans toward a musical future Mozart didn't live to see.
Lewis used delightful shifts of character and clear sonic contrasts to give the symphony an almost operatic feel, dimmed a bit by an imbalance in the strength of woodwind sounds.
A grand first movement led to a close-to-the-vest take on the second that pulled the audience into the music.
An infectiously lilting third movement gave way to a final movement full of completely engaging musical abandon.
IF YOU GO
This MSO performance will be repeated at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Pabst Theater, 144 E. Wells St. For ticket information, visit mso.org or call the Pabst Theater box office at (414) 286-3663.